How to Find a Job in International Education Part 1: Getting the Interview

May 19, 2014

By Mitch Gordon

Interested in finding a job in international education? You're not alone. Finding a job in international education can be incredibly competitive. That fact may be surprising when you consider this: The tangible benefits aren't very impressive. You should expect a modest salary and benefits, limited opportunities for advancement, and sometimes long working hours and travel. Why, you may ask, are these positions in such high demand? Because you'll be doing meaningful, rewarding work that has a real impact on real people. With the above in mind, how can you make your goal a reality and find a job in international education?

In applying for a job, there's no perfect formula. However, there are some best practices to follow that will help your application stand out from the crowd, increase your chances of getting an interview, and ultimately boost your chance of receiving a coveted job offer.

Start Your Search Before You Need the Job

The worst time to look for a job is when you really, really need one. Start now. How? It's a lot easier than you might think. People in the world of international education are an extremely friendly, passionate group. Get to know them better. Form relationships with people at organizations and companies you respect.

You might be saying to yourself, "Sounds great, but practically how should I do this?" Here's how: Ask five people to meet you for coffee. The NAFSA annual conference in San Diego is a great opportunity to do this. All you need to say is, "I find what you do really interesting and would love to learn more about your career path. Are you available to meet for coffee sometime?" Another approach: "Are you available for a quick informational interview over the phone?" People who love what they do also love talking about it. But there's one caveat: The above approach can't be forced or fake. You have to be genuine, humble, and purposeful in your approach.

Do the Job Before You Apply for it

How can you do the job you're applying for before you start? Find ways such as volunteering or serving as an intern to get your foot in the door. Most people in this field will tell you that they paid their dues before actually landing a job. Almost everyone I know in the field worked one or more unpaid internships at a study abroad office or third-party provider. That might be tough to stomach, and it likely means increased financial pressure in the short term. But if the long-term payoff is a career you love and purpose-driven work you feel passionately about, a three-month internship is a small price to pay.

Show You Understand What Makes the Organization Unique

Every organization is unique. Take some time to research and understand the organization's history and values. Include these details in your cover letter or short introductory e-mail. This will make a great first impression and the person reviewing your application will certainly appreciate it. If the organization has been in the news lately, or started a new program, mention that in your message.

Finding ways to connect on a personal level is to your advantage, if done authentically. There is always a way to do this, especially in the world of international education.

A Shorter Résumé is Better

I really wish I had time to read through a multiple-page résumé. That would be an ideal approach. It almost feels disrespectful when I have to skim a résumé. The reality, however, is that I have 30 seconds to 1 minute to evaluate each candidate. I'm not alone, as a wide variety of research shows. This study says recruiters are spending an average of 6 seconds reading your résumé. That means you should put everything on one page, with a maximum of two if you're later in your career. One important side point: Only send PDFs. Sending a résumé in Word is asking for formatting problems, which can also leave a bad impression.

Personality and Creativity Count

I can always tell when I'm reading a form cover letter. They almost never impress me. Anyone can spend a month having their career counselor, friends, and parents help them write a formulaic cover letter. It takes a lot more creativity (and courage!) to write a cover letter specific to the organization you're applying to. Tell the organization why you want to work in international education. Tell them why you're a great fit for their organization. Don't make it about you, make it about them.

What do I mean by that? It's easy to be inward focused and say, "I'm great at the following things….." It takes more effort to research the organization and show that you truly understand what they are looking for.

Use Your Network

Do you know anyone who has a relationship with people at the organization? If so, ask them to reach out and make an introduction for you. Use LinkedIn to your advantage. Do you have any mutual connections? Ask for a recommendation and introduction. Online tools are only useful if you use them to leverage real-world connections. There is nothing more important than leveraging your network. Don't be shy about asking for an introduction and recommendation. After all, wouldn't you be happy to go out of your way for someone you think would do a great job? Others will do the same for you.

Stability is Important

It's important to show you can be a stable, reliable member of any team. If I look at a résumé and see you haven't stayed at one company for at least two years, that's a very easy rejection (unless, of course, you've just graduated!). Stability is a very important factor in the success of any organization. If I see five jobs in five years, or even two jobs in two years, that indicates to me that something went wrong: Either you're always looking for a new job, or you're not getting along with the people you work with.

There are few qualities in an employee more important than dedication and loyalty to the mission. If you're jumping from job to job, that's a huge red flag. What's the takeaway here? If you're being treated well and are learning, stay at your first or second job for at least two years. It will benefit you in the long run.

Getting the Interview

There is no perfect formula, but following the above advice will increase your chances of receiving a coveted interview offer. At the end of the day, be yourself, let your personality shine through, and try to stay confident. You can't control whether you receive an interview offer, but you can control having a positive attitude. In Part II we'll discuss moving past an interview and landing a coveted job in international education.

Join me for "How to Create an Entrepreneurial Career in International Education" in room 23 AB on Wednesday, May 28 from 12:00 p.m. – 12:45 p.m.


Mitch GordonMitch Gordon is currently the CEO & cofounder of Go Overseas and the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of California-Berkeley. Previously, he founded Reach to Teach and lived in Taipei, Taiwan, for five years. He currently resides in San Francisco, CA. When he’s not working you can find Mitch on a run, hiking, traveling (of course!) or with a good book in his hand. You can connect with him on LinkedIn and on Twitter @MitchGordonGo


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